Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley


For thousands of years across all cultures, birds of prey (also known as raptors) have captured our hearts and minds as they have variously awed, excited and inspired us. Our area is home to over 30 species of birds of prey but these hawks and owls, eagles, falcons, kestrels, osprey and vultures, while indeed most interesting, can be difficult to identify.

Hawks swoop by so quickly that it seems impossible to recognize which they might be and the nocturnal habits of owls make it challenging to see them closely enough to make a positive identification.

On Sunday, March 2, Nature Lover’s Bookshop will be providing an opportunity for you to see many different birds of prey up close to better understand the identifying characteristics and habits. Specimens on hand will include various owls and hawks.

Moreover, it will be retired educator, international birder and local bird columnist Cliff Bennett leading the Birds of Prey Identification Workshop. Cliff’s passion for birds and his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge is well known by all who have had an opportunity to join him in many birding outings he leads on the regular trail or canoe trips, collecting data for one of the ‘squares’ for the Breeding Bird Atlas, or during the annual Christmas Highlands Bird Count. Cliff is also a founding member of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and currently Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. We could not ask for a better guide to the fascinating world of birds of prey.

Observing the raptors’ distinct characteristics up close will not only help with future identification but with Cliff’s guidance will lead to a better understanding of the habits and lives of each and the role it plays in our ecosystem.
The workshop will take place between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. The Nature Lover’s Bookshop is located at 62 George St in Lanark Village. Children are welcome as always. Further info (613) 259-5654

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Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 7, 2008

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

“Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” at next field naturalist lecture

On Thursday, February 21st, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) proudly present a lecture by Cliff Bennett, international birder, Lanark Era bird columnist and current Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. The lecture entitled “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” will be the 5th in MVFN’s series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The timing for this lecture could not be better, following the official January 30th launch at the Museum of Nature of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2nd edition.

Cliff Bennett is one of MVFN’s founding members, and celebrated author of our Lanark County Canoe & Kayak Journeys guide. As a retired educator living along the Indian River in Mississippi Mills, Cliff has never really stopped teaching, especially where birds are concerned. Cliff was responsible for MVFN’s 5 year effort to collect data for one of the ‘squares’ reported in the breeding bird atlas, and was on hand January 30th to receive his copy of the atlas.

Beginning in 2001, MVFN officially began work on the ‘Appleton’ or square 18VR10 in the atlas. Birds were followed in search of definitive evidence of breeding within the square. Evidence could range from ‘possible’ i.e. for birds seen in season in suitable habitat or for breeding calls heard in breeding season in suitable habitat, to ‘confirmed’ for sighting of fledged or downy young, nest with eggs, adults carrying food for young etc. Similar data from the thousands of squares in Ontario have undergone extensive analysis and the results are summarized in the new Atlas.

Cliff will tell us about changes and challenges for birds around us. In doing so, he will draw from his own observations and from the information analyzed and presented in the newly released Atlas. As human populations grow, effects on the landscape are evident and these have corresponding impacts on birds, both positive and negative. Canada geese, house finches, blue-headed vireos, turkey vultures and wild turkeys have expanded their ranges considerably. However, some birds such as common nighthawk, chimney swift, bank swallow, blue-winged teal, red-headed woodpecker and all swallows have decreased significantly.

What are the key reasons for these expansions and declines? What conservation challenges are suggested by this information?

The lecture by Cliff Bennett, “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” will take place Thursday February 21st at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. There is a fee of $5 for non-members over 16. Refreshments are provided. All are welcome. For more information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at

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Press Story
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
December 31, 2007
by Cliff Bennett

Many Records Broken In Recent Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Census

The fifth Annual Audubon Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, Dec. 30, under ideal winter conditions. Compared to last year when there was only a smattering of snow on the ground, this year’s deep snow made traveling off road somewhat difficult. In spite of this challenge, some surprising results occurred, including a record number of birds counted and the number of species listed increasing by one. Seven new records were broken and three completely ‘new-to-the-Lanark Highlands count’ species were listed.

Although there was some open water on the Mississippi River and into Dalhousie Lake, there were no water birds to be found this year, unlike last year where over 300 geese and a few ducks were registered. However, the twenty-three field observers and fourteen feeder counters persevered and managed to break the record for number of birds counted and species recorded. 4,005 individual birds counted this year surpassed 2004’s 3,717 and thirty-seven species beat 2005’s thirty-six species by one.

Individual records broken this year included wild turkeys, 123 (100 in 2005); mourning doves, 207 (139 in 2004); blue jays, 401 (342 in 2004) and pine grosbeaks, 132 (31 in 2004). All three woodpecker records were surpassed including downy woodpecker, 74 (52 last year); hairy woodpecker, 115 (80 in 2004) and pileated woodpecker, 12 (10 in 2004). Records were tied for sharp-shinned hawks (2) and white-throated sparrows (2). New species listed for the very first time in the count were Cooper’s hawk, grackle and cedar waxwings.

The count circle is centered on Watson’s Corners and covers a 15 km radius. The circle is divided into four equal ‘pieces of the pie’ and each was assigned a team leader, all local residents. Team A led by Bruce LeGallais included Don Brown (Kanata), Don McInerney, Pip Winters, Paul Frigon and Phil Laflamme. Team B led by Roberta Clarke, assisted by John Clarke, included Louis Frenette (Carleton Place), Lynda Bennett, Paul Sprague and Gloria Opzoomer. Team C was led by Claire Fisher and team members were George Fisher, Neil and Lucy Carleton, Jeff Mills, Jim and Yvonne Bendell and Lise Balthazar. Team D, led by Ted Mosquin, included Linda Mosquin and Mark Garbutt. Marjorie Montgomery organized and compiled the feeder counts. Project organizer and compiler was Lanark ERA columnist Cliff Bennett and the event was sponsored by Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN).

The highlight of the day as usual, was the count-in reception. Hosted by Mary Vandenhoff and staff at the Nature Lovers Book Store in Lanark, all members gathered to compare experiences, discuss the results compiled on a chart and enjoy excellent refreshments. In return for the hosting, MVFN will be making a financial contribution to the North Lanark Community Heath Centre.

MVFN wishes to thank and congratulate all participants. Complete results are as follows:

bald eagle 1; sharp-shinned hawk 2; Cooper’s hawk 2; red-tailed hawk 1; rough-legged hawk 2; ruffed grouse 3; wild turkey 123; rock pigeon 198; mourning dove 207; barred owl 2; downy woodpecker 74; hairy woodpecker 115; pileated woodpecker 12; northern shrike 1; blue jay 401; common crow 93; raven 45; chickadee 986; red-breasted nuthatch 20; white-breasted nuthatch 84; golden-crowned kinglet 3; starling 189; cedar waxwing 4′ Bohemian waxwing 90; tree sparrow 51; dark-eyed junco 41; white-throated sparrow 2; snow bunting 179; cardinal 14; common grackle 1; pine grosbeak 132; purple finch 10; house finch 6; common redpoll 466; goldfinch 132; evening grosbeak 288; house sparrow 37.

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
January 2, 2007

by Mike Jaques

Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count 2006 

The 63rd annual Christmas Bird Count took place onTuesday December 27th 2006. It was one of over 2000 counts taking place throughout the Americas over the Christmas period. The count area is a circle of 15 miles diameter centered on the bridge over the Mississippi River in Carleton Place and including Almonte, Appleton and Ashton. The first count was conducted in 1944 by George and Douglas Findlay and three others.

The weather on the day was mostly cloudy with temperatures between -10°C and -6°C. There was some snow on the ground but unusually mild weather until Christmas meant that Mississippi Lake was wide open. This was unprecedented and resulted in large numbers of ducks being seen on the lake and many records being broken.

The number of species seen was 44, which is average. The number of birds counted was 6615, which is above average. The all-time highs are 50 species and 8855 birds. No new species for the count were tallied, but the first Great Blue Heron since 1997 and the first Belted Kingfisher since 1998 was found. For the second year in succession a Carolina Wren was seen at a feeder in Carleton Place and other lingering summer birds were found. There were no Evening Grosbeaks or Common Redpolls and generally lower numbers of the winter birds from the north.

There were record highs counts and ties for record for the following species (previous highs in brackets):

Great Blue Heron 1 (1 in 1997)

Canada Goose 395 (318 in 2003)

Common Goldeneye 82 (64 in 2005)

Common Merganser 291 (34 in 1988)

Bald Eagle 4 (2 in 2003)

Cooper’s Hawk 3 (3 in 2003)

Red-tailed Hawk 21 (21 in 2001)

Downy Woodpecker 106 (101 in 1981)

White-breasted Nuthatch 139 (139 in 1982)

Carolina Wren 1 (1 in 2005)

The count was organized by Cliff Bennett. At the end of the day the field observers gathered at the 7 West Cafe to see the field results displayed. Georgina Doe organized the feeder counts and Mike Jaques compiled the final results. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists sponsored the count and 27 field observers and 38 feeder operators took part.

A list of all species seen and their numbers is as follows:

Great Blue Heron 1
Canada Goose 395
Ring-necked Duck 1
Common Goldeneye 82
Common Merganser 291
Bald Eagle 4
Northern Harrier 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2
Cooper’s Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 21
Rough-legged Hawk 18
Ruffed Grouse 18
Wild Turkey 103
Ring-billed Gull 2
Rock Pigeon 729
Mourning Dove 335
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 106
Hairy Woodpecker 89
Pileated Woodpecker 8
Northern Shrike 3
Blue Jay 374
American Crow 417
Common Raven 7
Black-capped Chickadee 982
Red-breasted Nuthatch 15
White-breasted Nuthatch 139
Brown Creeper 2
Carolina Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 3
American Robin 1
European Starling 753
Cedar Waxwing 102
American Tree Sparrow 285
Dark-eyed Junco 110
Snow Bunting 307
Northern Cardinal 49
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Common Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Purple Finch 4
House Finch 57
American Goldfinch 624
House Sparrow 164

Also seen in the count week, but not on the day, were Pine Siskins.

Mike Jaques

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Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

August 17, 2006

by Cliff Bennett

When a child is showing signs of stress, we naturally take its temperature. With the potential of climate change to stress the Mississippi River watershed, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) decided to take its temperature. So, from Upper Lake Mazinaw at one end, to the Ottawa River at the other, we took the temperature of lakes and rivers of the watershed. The volunteer driven water-temperature survey, conducted on the August holiday weekend, was one of 75 projects celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature, formerly The Federation of Ontario Naturalists. As an outreach project, the goal was to engage the public in considering the implications of future climate change for the Mississippi River.
The health of our lakes and rivers is important to us: the watershed is where we live and play. Water temperature, levels, flow patterns and distribution of flora and fauna are not static; change can occur quickly in response to various environmental stresses. Water temperature, specifically maximum surface-water temperature, usually occurring during the first week of August in our watershed, is one important control on the distribution of aquatic plants and animals which can be measured.

Eighty to one hundred people, MVFN members and other volunteers, thermometers and home-made water-samplers in hand, set out in canoes, row boats and motor boats to take the watersheds’ temperature in the perfect weather of August 5-7th. From families in rented canoes, people in motor boats, and those sampling from bridges and docks, we thank all participants who helped make the survey a success! Please send in your location and temperature data if you have not already done so, as information on all lakes and river sections within the watershed is valuable. Raw data will be archived with MVC and the field naturalists.

The water-temperature survey project was a result of nearly a year of planning by MVFN organizers, coordinated by Cliff Bennett and including Paul Eggington, Michael Macpherson, Michael McPhail, Howard Robinson and Pauline Donaldson. Of course, MVFN could not have completed this Herculean effort without partnerships with Lake Associations, local Fish and Game Clubs, and volunteers from NRCan, to which heartfelt thanks and congratulations are extended. Special thanks go to Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) staff member Susan Lee and summer student Tom Thistle, whose efforts in contacting and encouraging the Lake Associations were outstanding.

In all, an estimated 500 plus temperature readings were collected, both at the surface and one metre deep across the watershed. Collected at a single point in time they will provide a baseline of data on temperature distribution across the watershed. The baseline can be used for assessing future change. In addition, lake associations and other groups can use the data in a more specific way, for example to look at temperature variations within their lake or river area to locate useful sites where data loggers could record future change as it happens. Already, as a result of this project, temperature loggers were installed by lake conservationists in Buckshot Lake, Clayton Lake and White Lake, and plans are underway to install them in additional places. Valuable ongoing monitoring work also continues to be done by volunteers such as Lake Stewards and organizations such as MVC and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Future climate change is only one environmental stress which may change our watershed. The provincial government and MVC have now begun serious consideration of the implications of future climate change. Hopefully, our work will encourage the local public to engage in discussions about how we can manage future change. Just what is at risk and how can we best adapt to changes that are already underway?

Once all of the water temperature results are in, MVFN will prepare a summary report of the 2006 water-temperature survey for public release. Copies will also be sent to participating groups and individuals and posted on our website at For further information on this or other MVFN projects, please contact MVFN President Michael McPhail at 613-256-7211 or .

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